University Growth Facilities Then and Now

Bring our Children to Work Day has been ongoing at the University of Toronto for over 20 years. It gives children an opportunity to get insight into the work lives of their parents. It gives parents the chance to share elements of their workplace with their children and to get out to visit other interesting areas of campus.

My first adventure with this initiative happened in 2002. Based on her own positive experiences with her children, my supervisor encouraged me to sign up with my two daughters. After spending the morning in the office, my daughters and I had lunch, listened to a lecture and then headed off to with a small group to visit the university greenhouse. At the time, the greenhouse was located at the corner of Queen’s Park and College.

Today the string of hearts that we planted together back in 2002 remains a highly prized part of my houseplant collection. We were enchanted by the collection of over 600 plants with exotic varieties such as banana plants and palms. The girls liked the turtles and we all appreciated the friendliness of the staff.

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string of hearts

We were fortunate to visit then as the 1932 structure was dismantled just one year later to make way for the Leslie L. Dan Pharmacy Building. In 2004, in a joint effort between the University, the city and TD bank, the structure was relocated to Allan Gardens and reopened as the Children’s Conservatory.

At the university, the greenhouse was replaced by the current growth facility which is located on the rooftop of the Earth Sciences Building. When we spoke recently, Chief Horticulturalist Bill Cole recalled some of the challenges of trying to conduct research in the old facility. Raccoons and squirrels would sometimes find their way in and dig up research specimens (some plants brought in from afar) in search of food.

Staff dedication is apparent within the growth facility. Many staff including recent retirees, dedicated careers spanning decades of service to the teaching and research mission of the university. Bill Cole, current Chief Horticulturalist, and Andrew Petrie, Horticulturalist Emeritus, highlight the collection in this 2018 video:

University of Toronto, The Plant People, 2018

The passion for growth continues in the work of Bill and current Horticulturalist, Tom Gludovacz. Recently, Tom took some time out of his busy day to explain the research and teaching elements of his work and to show me the Desert, Temperature, Tropical and Desert House Collections. The Growth Facility also supports learning through the employment of students in work study positions.

Important research currently happening at the facility focuses on pollination, crowding simulation, invasive species and genetics. Also growing in the research area, wheat and corn for class work.

Research areas are not open to the public as environmental conditions are important. Many chambers include just one plant type and depending on the time cycle of the individual experiment, growth chambers can be monochromatic brown as plants may need to be examined at the end of their life cycles.

Thanks to Bill and Tom for sharing their work with me and for their ongoing dedication. Next week I will be focusing on highlights from the Palm, Tropical, Temperate and Desert House Collections.

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